Marine protected areas (MPAs) are a primary policy instrument for managing and protecting coral reefs. Successful MPAs ultimately depend on knowledge-based decision making, where scientific research is integrated into management actions. Fourteen coral reef MPA managers and sixteen academics from eleven research, state and federal government institutions each outlined at least five pertinent research needs for improving the management of MPAs situated in Australian coral reefs. From this list of 173 key questions, we asked members of each group to rank questions in order of urgency, redundancy and importance, which allowed us to explore the extent of perceptional mismatch and overlap among the two groups. Our results suggest the mismatch among MPA managers and academics is small, with no significant difference among the groups in terms of their respective research interests, or the type of questions they pose. However, managers prioritised spatial management and monitoring as research themes, whilst academics identified climate change, resilience, spatial management, fishing and connectivity as the most important topics. Ranking of the posed questions by the two groups was also similar, although managers were less confident about the achievability of the posed research questions and whether questions represented a knowledge gap. We conclude that improved collaboration and knowledge transfer among management and academic groups can be used to achieve similar objectives and enhance the knowledge-based management of MPAs.